Various rules and crossovers for near-future, pre-Endtimes settings.
The Cthulhu Matrix
by James Haughton, DGML 19265
Announcing "The Cthulhu Matrix"; or, "I spliced William Gibson's and HP Lovecraft's DNA and all I got was this lousy campaign setting"
I assume you've read William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy. That's more or less the default setting. Some elaborations follow:
"Cyberspace" isn't the smooth geometric pixelated shared hallucination that Gibson envisaged anymore. That's because such an environment is boring. Early research in the generation of Cyberspace soon established that the direct-brain-command link worked much better when the mind saw itself as in a symbol-rich and meaningful environment, as opposed to a 3-D Windows Desktop (see Verner Vinge, True Names)
To date there are three dominant Cyberspatial Interface Metaphors (CIMs) used by the vast majority of the world's cyberlinked population:
1) Phantasy: Created when Microsoft merged with World of Warcraft, this is a sword-and-sorcery style setting, though more bronze age than medieval in tone. Controls over 85% of the market.
2) Steampunk (colloquially known as "Gay Paree"): This setting, created by Apple, is extremely popular with artists and all those who work with graphical images. It places the user in a decadent fin-de- siecle setting with both computational and surrealistic overtones. All users appear wearing masks. Much more customisable in its appearance than Phantasy, the CIM is adept at reconfiguring itself in response to the subconscious cues of the user. See Dave Langford, Blossoms that Coil and Decay, available for 50 cents, and the Man In Black's New Carcosa setting if he ever writes it.
3) Waterworld: Waterworld is a subaquatic CIM. Waterworld users, like Linux users, defy easy characterisation except for their obsessive nature, though it is popular among many physicists, mathematicians and marine scientists. Created by the company DeepNet, an IT startup founded by graduates from Miskatonic University in the nearby town of Innsmouth, Waterworld is still small but rapidly gaining a good reputation. See Dave Langford's Deepnet, available here for 50 cents:
The neural interface, which must be surgically implanted in the user's brain to enable them to make full use of any of these CIMs, is patented and produced by only one company, March Technologies, a company with longstanding ties to the American Dept of Defence (See Delta Green/Majestic-12/Important Individuals/Justin Kroft). Would-be competitors have so far been unable to recreate, duplicate, pirate or reverse engineer an interface with performance even remotely close to March's. The Chinese and Russians keep trying, though, due to a long- held suspicion that the neural interface holds some kind of "clipper chip" which would render users vulnerable to American government infiltration.
It's generally known that March recruits many of its researchers from Miskatonic University (also an institution with longstanding DoD ties), which is one reason those "in the know" forsee great things for DeepNet.
Miskatonic University itself is a rather unusual institution, a bastion of privacy and privilege in a mediated, postmodern age. It owes this status to longstanding collaboration with the defence industry, first forged by Drs Jonathan Lake and Ambrose Dexter, who worked on the atomic and fusion bomb projects respectively. Despite this early lead, Miskatonic soon recognised that it lacked the infrastructure and resources to compete in high-level physics, and so made a pitch to the government on their long-standing strength in abnormal and para-psychology, offering to work on psychological weapons programs and other, more esoteric fields. This offer was accepted with MKULTRA, and other programs that never saw the light of day, as the result. Even the parapsychology program would pay off in the long term as the work done on mental/physical interaction turned out to lay vital foundations for the construction of CIMS and neural interfaces.
Still, this collaboration has given Miskatonic a shady reputation, and it draws many of its students from defence or corporate clients rather than from the general public as a result. Miskatonic is proud to be an ivory tower, providing a traditional liberal and classical education, and standing tall against the winds fleeting academic fashions like left postmodernism, right fundamentalism, equal opportunities reform and ethics committees.
Other advances in technology have seen biotechnology and genetic engineering take on much of the role that cybernetics played in the fiction of the cyberpunk movement. Cosmetic genetic engineering (to change eye, skin, hair, etc) colour is common, and various minor enhancements (eg night vision, stronger muscles) not unusual. More exotic weaponisations (eg Molly-style Claws) exist but are generally restricted to military or criminal circles.
The neural interface "pioneered" by March Technologies was in fact the result of an MJ-12 raid on a mountain in Vermont with a long history of "alien" sightings (see "The Whisperer in Darkness"). The mountain turned out to be heavily defended by some strange kind of nano-biological constructs (a protomatter shoggoth equivalent), and the resulting battle saw low-yield nukes deployed in New England, which was impossible to cover up completely. This turned out to be MJ-12's Cambodia.
After the usual round of witch-hunts, scandals, lies, whitewashes and cover-ups, the secret of alien intervention on earth was kept, and MJ- 12 was disassembled and brought into the regular machinery of government responsible to the President. A senior academic with past ties to the secret services, one Dr Joseph Camp, was brought in to preside over a restructuring of alien intelligence. However, Dr Camp died soon after taking the post. His successors found themselves prey to the usual fate of revolutionaries who take over the government – power corrupts. Though Dr Camp and his colleagues successfully changed the focus of what was once MJ-12 from collaborating with alien beings to combating them, they were unable to resist the temptation to make use of the discoveries made during the fight. In particular, the Dark Mountain facility in Vermont, captured largely intact, promised incredible leaps in understanding of the brain and nervous system and how they could be interfaced with technology. MJ- 12 researchers were able to get the Grey systems to continue producing neural interfaces; though how they do it is still beyond human science.
The first neuro-cybernetic linkages were embarrassing failures, for an unanticipated reason. No culture in the world has attempted to erect as strong a wall between conscious and unconscious, reason and emotion, as the West. What the scientists discovered is that the brain does not function in this manner, but as an integrated whole, and the repressed does indeed return. Cyberlinked hardware responded just as much to emotional commands as to "thoughts". The first private with a cyberlinked firearm promptly shot the drill sergeant he hated; the first cybermail, dictated straight from a captain's mind to his secretary's desktop, went something like: "Ms Smith, please bring in the March accounts, then place them on my desk, turn around slowly, lift up your skirt and I'll hump you like the bitch on heat you are."
The military-scientific apparatus of the West in general, and DG/MJ- 12 in particular, could have used this discovery to rethink the emphases of their culture and the way they had stunted the emotional development of those in their hierarchies. Or, they could find a quick technical fix. Naturally, they chose the latter.
Another piece of Grey technology, the crystal matrix AI, was implanted with each cyberlinkage to act as a filtering system, and trained (much like a neural net or a spell-checker) in which commands to pass and which to suppress. With the problem solved, neural interfaces spread through the military and then into commercial and general use. AIs have also come into general knowledge, although they are still rare and fabulously expensive. Rumours that the whole of cyberspace is itself an AI, or that that AI has split into fragments which believe themselves to be ancient gods, are dismissed as urban legends.
However, things are not so simple.
The dominant CIMs are in fact constantly shaped by the unconscious commands of their users, filtered through Mi-Go AI technology. As a result, they resonate with the realms of the collective unconscious, becoming carbon copies existing in perfect synchrony with the realms of thought. Phantasy is the Dreamlands; Steampunk is Carcosa; and Deepnet is the psychic and oceanic realm of R'lyeh and the Deep Ones. No active intervention by the Great Old Ones was necessary to create this situation, just market forces and the unconscious human mind, which shaped cyberspace into these places.
As a result, the walls between realities are growing increasingly thin (for inspiration, read Michael Marshall Smith, Only Forward and Spares). Much of the western world now spends 90% of its time, at work and asleep, in the Dreamlands. Ghoulish computer viruses roam in the deep secret databases of corporations, or are harnessed to consume the minds of cybernetic intruders; search engines assemble patterns of data which are woven into the robes of the King in Yellow; and the alien geometries of R'lyeh are reflected in the elegant mathematical constructs of DeepNet. (Fiction: "Star light, Star byte" by Marella Sands; "A fatal exception has occurred at…" by Alan Dean Foster; "Pickman's Modem" by Lawrence Watt-Evans; "Cold Colors" by Neil Gaiman).
Leakages between worlds are almost daily events, but are suppressed and covered up by the Delta Green/MJ-12 hybrid agency. TO dismantle cyberspace now would destroy the world economy, which is only now lifting much of the human race out of poverty. Instead, DG/MJ-12 races to capture more and more mythos technology which can be used to combat the alien powers exerting their psychic thrall over earth (cf: A Colder War, Charles Stross; "The Unthinkable" by Bruce Sterling)
As Gibson explores in the Sprawl trilogy, under the psychic pressure of the Great Old Ones, cyberspace did indeed become conscious as a great AI, but then fractured. The fragments are the cyber-copies of the "mild gods of earth", the Elder Gods, who dwell in Unknown Kadath (cf "Typo" by Michael D. Winkle). They are sympathetic and resonate to a growing group of urban shamans and postmodern primitives, but still too weak to oppose the Great Old Ones directly. In addition, their cults are often targeted by DG/MJ-12, who can't tell the difference.
PS After the initial setback, the Mi-Go have found an unexpected boon in all this. The implanting of crystal AIs means that instead of taking the entire brain from a study subject, they can just make a copy of the crystal. They can then extrapolate a simulated person from the crystal and compare its behaviour to that of the real person (either released into the wild, or kept for testing). This ability to do comparative trials on the same human psyche under different circumstances is hoped to produce rapid advances in the understanding of human "intuition".
The Shadowy Ms Jones writes (DGML 19277)
One implication of this; The Mi-Go have been given an almost total command of the human race. They could download copies of anyone they wanted to 'examine' over the net and they could reach through the interface and manipulate it's users senses or memories directly.